Sunday, May 27, 2007

Problems With The Bill

Unfortunately, things aren’t looking so good for the Road Home program, the official homeowner grant program. I wrote on Thursday that the program is facing a $3 billion shortfall. It turns out federal recovery czar Donald Powell blames Louisiana for that lack of funds. Apparently, the federal government, much like the insurance companies, only helps families affected by flood damage, not by wind damage. He said, “We were always very clear that the federal government would not fund state housing programs to cover wind damage.” The state of Louisiana, on the other hand, decided humanity is more important than technicalities, and awarded Road Home grants to all homeowners affected by Katrina. As a result, Powell believes it is very unlikely Louisiana will be given the $3 billion it needs.

Ironically, only half of that shortfall comes from the state's decision to help with wind damage – the other half is, no surprise, the feds’ fault. According to the Times Picayune, “The rest of the problem comes from unexpected new costs and from relying on federal figures that estimated far fewer homes were totaled by the 2005 hurricanes.”

According to Powell, “As elected officials have said many times, the federal government is responsible for this hurricane damage because of the failure of the levee system. And now nearly half of the federal funding is going to homeowners that experienced no levee-related damage.” What about 9/11, says I? Or Hurricane Andrew, or Midwestern tornadoes? The federal government handles disaster relief whether or not it’s too blame, why should New Orleans be any different? But that aside, the basic premise of Powell’s position is immoral and anti-community. He is, in sum, saying, “I’m sorry, Fred. I know you need help, and I know your house was under ten feet of water, but because Louisiana decided to help the equally hard-hit John when I told them not to, I’m not going to help you after all! That’s right, Fred, through no fault of your own, I’m gonna screw you over good!” Louisiana can make up some of the Road Home shortfall with the money Congress approved this week, but that’s hardly an ideal solution. The money is currently planned for local community rebuilding needs, not individual homeowner needs. KATC reports, “Redirecting money to Road Home could severely limit local rebuilding efforts in places like New Orleans and hard-hit St. Bernard Parish, officials said.” The Governor is likely to allow the redirection of funds, but only after lobbying Congress to do its job and provide the additional funding.

In addition to the Road Home problems, I don’t believe there’s any funding for Louisiana’s disappearing wetlands, and I don’t know what this bill does to address red tape issues outside the matching funds. You can allocate all the money in the world; it won’t do any good if it gets bottlenecked in the system. Please, write your Congressman and Senators to thank them for the supplemental funding, and remind them that the job isn’t done.

Photo: Craig Parker, the amazingly wonderful leader of the Dartmouth College Navigators Christian Fellowship, guts a house, March 2006. Photo by Sarah Rathnam.

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